February 21, 2017
My wife murders clichés. But because these are unpremeditated, we should probably reduce it to manslaughter.
Once, after a meeting, she was upset that the real issues had not been addressed. "There's a pink elephant on the table," she told me emphatically.
"You mean, 'There's an elephant in the room,'" I offered helpfully.
"No," she replied, "my elephant is pink and it is definitely on the table!"
On another occasion she could tell I was about to say something that could get me in trouble. "You are treading on thin ground, Le Peau!" she warned me. Well, at least if I fell through I wouldn't be in danger of drowning.
Every writing teacher, every book on writing tells us to avoid clichés, those turns of phrase that are so familiar they have lost all color and have no punch left in them. They have become bland and ineffective. The crutch of bad writers. Such advice has even turned into a cliché itself: "Avoid clichés like the plague."
Not only are clichés boring, they can also be problematic if misused. I was reading a recent fantasy novel about an imaginary world that was basically Medieval in nature. At one point a character offers the advice, "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth." Really? Is it possible that the exact same proverb developed in this alternate world as ours? To combat this, Tolkien created dozens of his own such as "The wise speak only of what they know."
Writers and speakers can (and largely should) just cut clichés, but there are two ways to use them effectively. One is to give them a twist. Suppose you are writing a detective novel. Your main character might say, "This guy had been a problem to me for years. As I held the gun I thought about how good it would feel to put him out of my misery." By switching one word, his to my, we give the cliché a twist and make it fresh again, hopefully bringing a smile to the reader.
To contrast something effective in a small way with something big that is unnecessary and counterproductive, try, "Better to light a candle than burn down the whole house."
A second way to make a stale expression much less so is to extend the metaphor the cliché suggests. That's what happens in the first two sentences above. "Murdering a cliché" is not quite a cliché, but it is a somewhat tired metaphor. By extending the metaphor to include manslaughter, we give it a good shot of caffeine.
Perhaps you want to consider the advantages of being sure to get something now versus the slim chance of getting everything later. This might do the trick: "Maybe you shouldn't count your chickens before they hatch, but at least you can have some eggs for breakfast."
If you want to express your dislike for someone, try this: "I held her at arm's length, wishing my arm was longer."
I had a teacher who said, "Just because it's a cliché doesn't mean it's not true." Clichés begin as hard-won pearls of wisdom that have become hidden in shells of overuse. But if we can give a cliché a twist, perhaps it can become the best of all possible pearls.
Credits. Elephant: www.clipartpanda.com/ Eggs: Andrew Le Peau
September 8, 2016
"Give someone a book, they'll read for a day. Teach someone how to write a book, they'll experience a lifetime of paralyzing self doubt," Lauren DeStefano tells us.
The psychological, spiritual, emotional pitfalls of writing a book are so numerous and varied it is amazing a word is ever written. And if you do finish and publish, you face a whole new set of issues instigated in equal measure by success and failure, by praise and criticism.Continue reading "The Pitfalls of Praise and Criticism"
May 12, 2016
April 7, 2016
When people hand me a proposal or manuscript for a non-fiction book and ask me for a publishing opinion, we'll talk about a number of issues. But I have one chief diagnostic question. Almost anything and everything an author has to say flows from the answer to this question. It tells writers what kind of vocabulary and images to use, how long the piece should be, how to organize the material, what to leave in, what to take out, and even where to try to publish it.
The question is this:Continue reading "The Key Question I Ask Authors"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 10:09 AM
October 20, 2015
October 13, 2015
What about academics writing for a general readership?Continue reading "Questions Academic Authors Should Ask (3)"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 9:57 AM
October 8, 2015
In my last post I offered a few questions academic authors should be asking before they start thinking about a manuscript. Here are some more.
Aren't simultaneous submissions taboo?Continue reading "Questions Academic Authors Should Ask (2)"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 9:53 AM
October 6, 2015
Sometimes academic authors come to me as an editor with questions about book publishing. Too often they do not. They simply have their proposed manuscript to present. As a result, they sometimes make missteps on the road to publication. As we approach the season of academic conferences where I will be meeting dozens of prospective authors, here are some questions they should be asking.Continue reading "Questions Academic Authors Should Ask (1)"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 9:59 AM
May 15, 2015
William Zinsser, author of the classic book On Writing Well, died this week. I have recommended his book more often and sold more copies of it than any other of many excellent options. The first hundred pages are a must for anyone writing non-fiction of any kind.Continue reading "Ode to On Writing Well"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 9:23 AM
October 29, 2013
What's the best way to hurt the local agriculture market in a country full of starving people? Indiscriminantly give away tons of free food. Relief organizations have learned the hard way that if they want to create a self-sustaining market of locally grown produce, they can't always bring in truckloads of rice from other countries.Continue reading "How to Kill Off Writing"
June 18, 2013
With so much bad academic writing, we cry, "Paragraphs, paragraphs everywhere, and not a word to read." Yet much academic writing is refreshing and worth savoring. Take Kevin Vanhoozer in Jesus, Paul and the People of God:Continue reading "Stylish Academic Writing 4: A Cup of Cold Water"
May 8, 2013
Dallas Willard went to be with his Lord this morning. Many people will miss his strong, gentle wisdom, remembering him as someone who was soaked in the presence of Christ. He was a beloved friend and writer to many. We enjoyed publishing a number of titles by Dallas (1935-2013), especially one of his signature books, Hearing God.Continue reading "Remembering Dallas Willard"
March 12, 2013
Writers and publishers have always had a love-hate relationship. Mark Twain once offered "the perfect recipe for a modern American publisher" as follows: "Take an idiot from a lunatic asylum and marry him to an idiot woman and the fourth generation of this connection should be a good publisher."*Continue reading "Good Prose 3: The Business of Writing"
February 13, 2013
Recently my wife and I were revising our wills. (Don't worry, kids. You're still in.) You see, we figure every twenty years or so we ought to take a look, you know, whether things have changed or not. And, of course, we got all the standard boilerplate stuff from our lawyer. And that was good.Continue reading "A Visit to Our Lawyer"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 10:31 AM
November 20, 2012
On November 15, 2012, I presented a paper at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society entitled "John Stott's Influence Through Publishing." I offer it here in five installments. The first installment can be found here.
Second, in addition to promoting constructive engagement with culture, he also (in contrast to much American evangelicalism) promoted an evangelicalism that was decidedly not anti-intellectual. He thoroughly endorsed the life of the mind, most explicitly in Your Mind Matters.Continue reading "Stott's Influence (2): The Life of the Mind"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 9:06 AM
August 22, 2012
Our good friend and beloved IVP author, Calvin Miller, died on August 19. The Singer, published in 1975, became his best-known work. Here, in its entirety, is the preface he wrote to the twenty-fifth-anniversary edition, in which he tells the story of the genesis of what Philip Yancey called "a groundbreaking book."
In the 1960s the rock culture savior made his appearance in New York. Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell opened on Broadway. Before long these musicals had entered common culture all across America. The tunes were memorable, and here and there the lyrics touched the New Testament account of Christ. Still, to me the Broadway Jesus seemed a pale imitation of the New Testament Christ. Someone, I thought, ought to write a creative account of the Christ of St. Matthew that St. Matthew would recognize. It was then that the chilling notion occurred to me: perhaps I was the one to do it.Continue reading "How "The Singer" Was Born"
February 28, 2012
I call them preacher stories--those tales that pass from church to church, book to book, blog to blog. Sometimes corny, sometimes profound, they can inspire, accuse, challenge, amuse, surprise or inform.
I recently came across the same story three times, and it made me wonder.Continue reading "Pastor Beware (and Writer Too)"
February 9, 2012
With all the options and advantages for self-publishing print and ebooks, authors are weighing their options these days, wondering what traditional publishers really have to offer. One consideration is selling rights.Continue reading "Reaching the World (or Not)"
January 20, 2012
October 20, 2011
I always get in trouble when I talk about what makes a great book title. I know people have other opinions, but this is something I happen to be right about.
This time, however, I've got two experts on my side. In Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath not only lay out what makes ideas memorable, but (even though they may not know it) they also unveil the principles for a great book title.
Great ideas (and titles) are:Continue reading "Titles That Stick"
October 13, 2011
Authors and editors know too much. And that goes for speakers, teachers and preachers too. They know too much about the subjects they are presenting. Why is that a bad thing? It's what Chip and Dan Heath, in Made to Stick, call the Curse of Knowledge.Continue reading "The Curse of Knowledge"
March 1, 2011
Many writers and editors identify themselves as introverts. Consequently they often become intimidated, in some cases petrified, by the "social" requirements of writing and editing. They think they have limited resources available to them to compete in the often extroverted world of publishing. They absolve themselves from the responsibilities of championing their projects or interacting with readers. They think (or act like) personality is destiny.Continue reading "Is Personality Destiny?"
June 1, 2010
Everybody does it. Besides that, it's not wrong. In fact, sometimes it can be a beautiful thing. No, I'm not talking about that! I'm talking about ending sentences with a preposition.Continue reading "That's Unheard Of!"
April 28, 2010
“Always make an outline before you start writing.” Isn’t that what your fifth grade teacher told you? Well, I’m sorry to break this to you, but Miss Whitebread was wrong. In my continuing series of Stupid Things You Were Taught in School (see here and here), let me deconstruct this bad boy.Continue reading "Miss Whitebread Was Wrong"
April 6, 2010
All writing is autobiography.
Fiction. Non-fiction. Quasifictional-semirealistic-self-congratualtory historical narrative. It's all autobiography.
Obviously memoir, journals, travelogues and a lot of bad poetry are autobiographical.
But what about auto-repair manuals?Continue reading "All Writing Is Autobiography"
December 1, 2009
I am neither a lawyer nor the son of a lawyer (though I am the father of a lawyer). So I am legally unqualified to give you any advice about anything (enough for the disclaimer). But I get asked questions.Continue reading "Who Will Own the Copyright?"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 6:50 AM
November 17, 2009
Coming up with good, new ideas is the hardest thing I do. Some people seem to have a hundred ideas a day. Often they are entrepreneurs driving their people nuts with their lack of focus, and usually most of their ideas are bad. But if one percent are good, that's one good idea a day--a very impressive output!
What about the rest of us? How can we get creative?Continue reading "Thaw Out Your Brain"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 7:49 AM
April 16, 2009
I'd better write this blog very carefully, omitting all needless words.
Today we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the release of The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White, affectionally shorthanded by its disciples as Strunk & White. In an age of chronic blogging, constant Facebook updating and compulsive Twittering, we need fewer words more than ever. No doubt Strunk and White have saved us from millions.Continue reading "Strunk and White at 50"
January 14, 2009
A woman in Indianapolis wanted to interview me. Well, it wasn't actually even as grand as that. She wanted her kids to interview me.
She had a project for her children to interview people in different lines of work to see how they got there. What were their interests when they were the age of her kids? What steps got them from there into a line of work that really fit who they were?Continue reading "A Bold, Exciting Career"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 8:36 AM
November 25, 2008
One of our long-term veteran editors, Linda Doll (and my coauthor of Heart. Soul. Mind. Strength.), used to tell interns and employees alike in the editorial department that if you wanted to be a writer you came to the wrong place. A book editor's job is to edit. If you want to write, fine--do that on your own time. But don't expect to have your cravings, yearnings, desires and dreams for writing fulfilled at the office. A harsh dose of reality? Perhaps. But reality nonetheless.Continue reading "Should Book Editors Be Writers?"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 8:19 AM
November 14, 2008
Every so often I am talking to an author about a potential book and he or she will say, “Well, I will have to check with my previous publisher first. In my contract I gave them first option on my next book.”
I am always amazed when I hear this. We got rid of the “next book clause” from our contracts thirty years ago. I thought such arrangements disappeared with the era of the dime novel. Apparently not.Continue reading "Ban the Next Book Clause"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 8:47 AM
October 6, 2008
One of my favorite quotes about publishing comes from John Tebbel's Between Covers. Tebbel recounts a conversation Mark Twain had with Frank Nelson Doubleday, in which Twain offered "the perfect recipe for a modern American publisher":
Take an idiot from a lunatic asylum and marry him to an idiot woman and the fourth generation of this connection should be a good publisher. (p. 138)
As Tebbel's book chronicles, there is a long, tension-filled and hilarious history of the relationship between authors and publishers. Many examples of strong, constructive and congenial relationships populate the past as well. I suspect that publishing is no more subject to these dynamics than any other endeavor involving more than one human being.
If it is more volatile, perhaps it is due to the often subjective nature of publishing. Predicting sales (and thus advances and royalties) is an art, not a science--thus it can be a point of tension. Knowing how and when to revise a manuscript is an art, not a science--thus also a point of potential tension.
Books have also been compared to being an author's "baby." There is a protective, parental concern that can hover over this toddler. As a parent's identity is wrapped up with what children say or how they perform, the same can be true with an author and their book. Publishers and editors and marketers are wise to take note of these factors.
I like the idea of working in partnership with authors, as a team. We each have strengths to bring to the table and seek to establish a mutual trust that focuses on doing what is best for everyone and for the book. Is that ideal? Perhaps. But it's an ideal that's worth the effort.
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 12:25 PM
June 3, 2008
May 15, 2008
There is a misconception abroad that white folk have no ethnic culture. We are, well, plain vanilla folk who lack the distinctive zest and pizazz of other groups. Not so. Here is a fun eye-opener squashing that myth which folks in publishing will no doubt especially enjoy.
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 8:27 AM
May 7, 2008
"Design, production, and manufacturing, in many publishing houses, are not considered as glamorous as editorial or sales, and may be looked upon a secondary. They should be viewed as quite the reverse," says publishing guru Tom Woll (p. 161). Why? Well, how many times have design and production saved editorial's and marketing’s behind when an author was late or a book needed to come out early? How many times has great jacket design made customers give a second look at something new? And how much money has been saved by shrewd print buyers?
Woll rightly points out, however, that it is unwise and unfair for others always to rely on production to bear the burden of fixing problems. When it comes to scheduling, one guideline we’ve implemented with some success is this: Do not schedule a book for publication until the revised manuscript is in hand.
That could sound draconian, but it works. Why? Authors may not always meet their deadlines because they are not employees of the publisher. So editors, as peers, have a limited set of tools they can use in working with authors to stay on schedule. But authors always want to know, "When will my book come out?" (Not so subtle subtext: "the sooner the better.")
Typically the answer would be, “In nine to twelve months.” By saying it can be scheduled only when the final draft is in hand puts responsibility (and motivation) properly in the author’s hands.
Exceptions? Certainly. A big upcoming event for which the book must be available. A big-name author whose bestseller is wanted by marketing (and probably finance) for this fiscal year. But those should be exceptions, not the rule.
That’s just one idea for trying to deal with the scheduling dragon. Any other good ideas out there?
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 9:45 AM
April 30, 2008
One colleague said I seemed to be pretty negative about coauthoring when I wrote about that here recently. Since I have coauthored five books myself, I suppose one could suppose a certain autobiographical slant to my comments. That has not been the case. I coauthored three Bible study guides with my wife, another with my wife and a friend, and Heart. Soul. Mind. Strength. with my former coworker at IVP, Linda Doll. Each was a very enjoyable experience with minimal problems.Continue reading "The Joys of Coauthoring"
April 23, 2008
It’s a myth that coauthoring is easier than single authoring.
What every editor knows and few authors know is the myth of coauthoring. The myth stated simply is: Coauthoring is better, easier, quicker and less work than single authoring a book. The myth is false on almost all counts. Yet it persists. Why?Continue reading "The Myths of Coauthoring"
March 24, 2008
Copyright is one of the more difficult and complicated concepts to wrap your mind around. That’s largely because it has to do with an intangible object—intellectual property. Over the years I’ve tried a variety of ways to explain it to authors and others. Here’s one of the best I’ve used.
Copyright is like real estate. If you own a piece of property, there are two things you can do with it to get some dinero. First, you can sell the property. Second, you can rent it.
If you sell the property, you are relinquishing all rights to the property in exchange for some greenbacks. The new owner may build a skyscraper on the land and make a gazillion samoleans (or lose same). In either case, it has nothing to do with you. You are not helped or harmed because you have no legal interest in the land anymore.
If you rent the property, you agree to allow someone to use the land for a certain amount of time for certain purposes in exchange for an agreed amount of shekels. But since you have transfered certain rights to the renter, you can’t just do anything with the property you choose. You can’t rent it out to someone else at the same time figuring you can get twice the rent. You can’t tear down the building on the property. At the same time you still have certain obligations. Likely you have to keep the building in good repair. In any case you still own the land.
With copyright you can also sell or rent. A work for hire is like selling your land. You transfer full, irrevocable ownership of and rights to the work you've created to someone else for some dead presidents. The new owner may make a mint or may crash and burn. You aren’t helped or hurt by this because you no longer have any rights in it.
Work for hire agreements are often used with employees (who get their salary in exchange for the intellectual property they create on the job). Freelancers often sign a work for hire agreement to do some work that is part of a larger work or collection.
You can also rent your copyright. You transfer certain rights for a certain period of time. But again, after having signed such a “rental” agreement, you can’t do anything you like with it. In many book contracts, all rights are transferred from the creator to the “renter” (or publisher). Now the publisher can exploit the work in a variety of ways and is obligated to compensate you, the creator, as agreed. You are limited in what you can do on your own with the work by the terms of the publishing agreement you have signed.
Now the work itself may be copyrighted in your name (indicating that you are the owner), but because of your (rental) publishing agreement, what happens to your work is now in the hands of another until the agreement comes to an end. That could happen when the work goes out of print or when some other event happens as defined in the agreement, such as the publisher failing to fulfill certain terms of the agreement.
So real estate and copyright. The analogy works for me. What about you?
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 10:50 AM
February 11, 2008
I believe it was The New Yorker that ran a cartoon depicting a stereotypical, balding, blue-suited executive sitting behind a large desk with an earnest, young, stubble-bearded creative-type standing in front of him imploringly. The executive says, "Your job is to propose. My job is to pooh-pooh."Continue reading "The Voice of Experience"
January 24, 2008
Bob Harvey, my former pastor, told the congregation in a sermon about the time he was on vacation at a lake, sitting in a giant inner tube when suddenly and unexpectedly he lost his balance and found himself upside down in the water, still stuck in the tube. As a man with a few extra pounds on his frame, he was unable to get out and right himself. While he was underwater trying to figure out what to do, he told us, he thought, You know, this will make a good sermon illustration.Continue reading "Stories Are the Point"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 8:15 AM
November 19, 2007
Be careful what you wish for.
Publishing is becoming like real estate. Only three things matter. Platform. Platform. Platform. It seems to be a requirement that to publish a book authors must be well-known or be on the speaking circuit or have a deep network of potential readers to tap into once the book is published. A high-platform author is the dream of every publisher. Or is it the nightmare?Continue reading "The Dark Side of Platform"
November 8, 2007
America is the land of infinite opportunities. We can all be whatever we want to be, shape our own identity, pursue any career path, even create our own gods. Certainly there is a great deal of opportunity and possibility in America, but as a recent Chicago Tribune article suggests, it is not infinite. There can come a time when we need to give up on a dream--if only, in true American style, to pursue a different dream.Continue reading "The Writer's Dream"
October 19, 2007
Vanity publishing. It even sounds a bit sleazy, doesn't it? Paying a "publisher" to print and distribute your work has always had negative connotations in publishing. If a legitimate firm won't produce your book, there must be something wrong with it. Right? Either it is commercially unviable or editorially substandard. It means someone is doing it just to satisfy their vanity.
No more. Vanity publishing has had an extreme makeover.Continue reading "Extreme Makeover: Vanity Publishing Edition"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 8:59 AM
September 26, 2007
"I asked five friends, and they all told me they loved the title I'm thinking of for the book."
"I randomly surveyed a dozen people at the mall and most liked my title best."
"I've been speaking on this topic lately, and when I mention my working title for the book, I get a very positive response."
Over the years we at InterVarsity Press have heard many variations on this theme from authors. They mention their working title to friends, relatives, coworkers or people in the intended audience, and the reaction they get leads them to believe they have a winner. And they might. But why should a publisher be cautious about such a conclusion? Why should an author also be cautious about such a conclusion?Continue reading "They Just Love My Title"
September 23, 2007
"Publishers don't sell books. Authors sell books."
I was with a group of editors last week. Roy Carlisle, who has been an editor at HarperSanFrancisco (now HarperOne), Crossroad and his own imprint, was making a presentation and was getting just slightly off topic. But he was passionate nonetheless. "An author has got to have a platform. That's what has been true in New York for the last five or ten years. It's what every editor there knows."
Publishers don't sell books? How do they stay in business?Continue reading "Publishers Don't Sell Books"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 1:19 PM
September 6, 2007
Some years ago we promised an author that if he signed his book contract with us that we would advertise the book in several key magazines. So he signed the contract, completed the manuscript and sent it in. It was a strong piece, and we were happy to publish it. However, we also discovered that it did not come to us very well targeted for the particular audiences of the magazines in which we had promised to advertise the book. As we discussed the audience for his book and possible revisions with the author, he was not inclined to make any significant changes.Continue reading "Keeping Promises"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 11:05 AM
August 14, 2007
July 2, 2007
The other day one of our editors, Dave Zimmerman, came to me with a proposal from a prospective author for a book. It was on prayer, mission, evangelism, the history of global Christianity, the future of Christianity, the Holy Spirit, the Kingdom of God and justice.
I looked at Dave and said, “First-Book Syndrome.” He grimly nodded in agreement.
What is First-Book Syndrome?Continue reading "The First-Book Syndrome"
June 25, 2007
Recently an author told me, “After I finished writing my book, I thought my job was done. I then discovered that my job was only half done.”Continue reading "Why Publishers Rely on Authors More Than Ever"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 9:59 AM